How is the tour going?
I'm having great fun, thanks. I haven't toured for years and so I was a little apprehensive as to what I was getting myself into but I have been pleasantly surprised. There's something quite liberating about hitting the road and leaving London behind for a while. The audiences are always different and the size and character of each Theatre keeps you constantly on your toes. Discovering the UK is also very interesting. There is so much to do and see. So much heritage. So much to learn. We had a wonderful time in Liverpool over Christmas and, following that, Cambridge stands out as a great week. Truro was lovely; unbelievably beautiful fresh, sunny days filled with coastal walks and good full houses in the evening. I'm really looking forward to my four weeks in Ireland. Right now I'm in sunny Poole and staring out at the sea, so I can't really complain!
The show is also still going strong in the West End. Why do you think it's so popular?
The theatrical experience of The 39 Steps is utterly original and captures the audiences imagination in a unique way. It's very funny, with a brilliant adaptation by the talented Patrick Barlow. It echoes and replicates moments from the Hitchcock film in the most accurate and imaginative way. The team behind the show is also first class. The combination of sound, lighting, physical choreography, a fantastic script and a very strong plot allow the show to fly. I'm always amazed at how many people know about The 39 Steps, through it's many different guises. There have been several films and everyone seems to have their preferred version. I've been in taxis, supermarkets, on the phone booking digs...you name it... and the most unlikely people seem to know all about it! So I think that helps to add to it's success. Without meaning to sound corny, there is something in it for everyone and people come away from seeing it uplifted and happy - that's usually a winning combination.
You play a variety of characters - which are your favourites and why?
I play three characters; Annabella Schmidt, Margaret and Pamela. They are all great women in their own right. I have the most fun with Annabella. She's a very strong, slightly eccentric, independent German spy who lives on the edge of danger all the time. She appears early on in the show and dominates Richard Hannay from the off. She's the only female character in the play that drives a scene - and I like to do the driving! Margaret is utterly beautiful and heart breaking as a character. I love her softness and purity and feel so sorry for her that she is married to such a bully of a man. Pamela is the most undamaged of all the women I play and struggles dealing with her attraction to a potential murderer. The thing that links each woman to the other is the fact that they all get themselves caught up in the most extraordinary situations.
The production is very fast paced. What's the funniest gaffe/incident that has occurred on the tour so far? Every night there is something new. It's a crazy show to be a part of because the entire company - including all of the technical team - work together. I go from being tenderly kissed by Richard Hannay and watch him run off into the Highlands of Scotland (underscored by romantic music) to scrambling around on my hands and knees holding puppets and planes!Sometimes the audience don't realise that something has gone wrong because there are lots of moments in the show that are deliberately wrong. There have been wigs falling off, moustaches falling off, lamps falling down, people in the wrong costumes for the wrong character....and I'm sure there are many more to come! The only thing to do with something like this is completely embrace every incident.
What's your favourite line in the play?
Pamela: Well, you can't do anything I've been to Scotland Yard.
Hannay: Scotland Yard?
Pamela: My Uncle's the Chief Commissioner, actually. Uncle Bob.
Hannay: Bob? Bob's your Uncle?
There are a few Hitchcock references in the play - Psycho or The Birds for you?
Yes there are, indeed. One is of a stabbing silhouette behind a shower curtain (Psycho) and the other is the black crows on a sign for 'Altnashellach' (The Birds). Fortunately, they decided not to re-enact the birds viciously attacking me! Most of my references are from the Hitchcock 39 Steps film, though. The taking off of the stockings to name one.
Can you summarise why people should see the show?
You will come out of the Theatre feeling better than when you went in and still have time to grab some supper afterwards!
What are your plans following the tour?
I am in discussions at the moment about a project that starts in the summer but as of yet, nothing is confirmed. My book is open.
Katherine Kingsley was speaking to Glenn Meads
The 39 Steps arrives at the Opera House, Manchester from 12 - 17 April.